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A matter of perspective

Jennifer Negley -- Home Textiles Today, May 7, 2001

A few years ago when Venture Stores made a last-ditch effort to stake out a fresh position against encroaching discounters and category killers, it came up with a new prototype that blasted away the paradigm of its past.

Out went automotives and hardware. Commodity products were shunted to gondola runs on one side of the store. Casual apparel was beefed up. Home goods were expanded and moved to a more central location. The days of competing on price were over. The era of presenting more fashionable goods at value prices had begun.

The company's O'Fallon, MO, store near headquarters offered the best example of the new look. The aisles were wider and meticulously uncluttered. Sight lines were lowered. Signage was spiffed up. There was no mistaking the importance being placed on home and apparel.

And one morning just days before the store would hold its official grand re-opening, the ceo and chief merchants were leading a tour as the doors were unlocked for the start of the day's business. When the first shopper walked in, the ceo greeted her with a cheery good morning and asked what she thought of the store.

She stopped and looked around.

Nodding with approval, she said, "It's just like Wal-Mart."

Needless to say, the ceo was thunderstruck. The whole point of the reformatting had been to make the store look as little like a mart as possible — different quality of assortment, different category emphasis, different layout and different pricing.

After all of the sweat that had been poured into the new prototype — lobbying the financial backers for the capital to make it possible, convincing a skeptical vendor community that their better goods belonged in the repositioned mix, working for weeks on an integrated advertising campaign to entice consumers to come take a look — and this woman likens it to Wal-Mart?

It was a painful reminder that consumers do not see the world through retailers' eyes — not even the worlds retailers created for them.

Concepts in which retailers take great pride are relatively meaningless to most shoppers. Ask a consumer what "every day low pricing" means and she could probably give you an answer. Ask her which stores offer it and she might struggle with a reply.

In reality, there are three main factors by which consumers evaluate a store: good stuff, good prices and good sales — their importance varying by customer and by occasion. Convenience, sharp merchandising and speed of checkout are all significant, but they enhance rather than outstrip the primary three.

The good news is that the formula can be successfully applied to any retail channel — from high-end boutiques to dollar stores.

That's not just something consumers are capable of seeing; it's what they look for.

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